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County’s £370k plan to put mobile sensory library on Warwickshire’s roads

WARWICKSHIRE County Council hopes its “very compelling case” to fund a mobile sensory library will land £373,000 from Arts Council England (ACE).

Permission from the council’s portfolio holder for customer and transformation Cllr Yousef Dahmash (Con, Hillmorton) was granted last Thursday (14th December) for officers to proceed with a full bid in the new year following a successful expression of interest.

Final decisions on the allocations of the £10 million national fund are due to come forward in April 2024.

The idea is for the electric vehicle to be accessible and equipped with “an immersive and interactive sensory room environment” which people of all ages with special educational needs, disabilities, dementia or other health-related conditions can access.

The facilities stimulate sight, hearing, touch and smell with the aim of building confidence, social and literary skills.

The £373,000 would cover the purchase of what is proposed to be an electric vehicle plus the operational costs for three years. The council has to contribute £48,500 to qualify for the funding.

The council’s reports says it anticipates recruiting “a team of volunteer drivers” with costs beyond the three years accounted for by a reduction in the county’s number of mobile libraries from three to two.

Prior to the decision to progress being rubber stamped, Ayub Khan, the county’s head of libraries, heritage, culture and registration, spoke about the project to the resources, fire and rescue overview and scrutiny committee.

Fielding a question on library facilities for children with autism, he highlighted an experiment at Stratford library where black-out curtains and projectors are utilised for two sessions per week for children with specialised needs.

“That really has been very successful,” said Mr Khan. “We have had small numbers but the provision has been very needed, it has been so successful that we want to try to extend that to other libraries.

“John Coleman [the county’s director for children and families] came to see us at Stratford and he has given us funding to make it happen in one other library.

“We have found such a need but we haven’t got those spaces in all our libraries to adapt and implement that, so we have asked for permission to apply to the Arts Council for a sensory vehicle, particularly for children with autism.

“The idea is that the vehicle can go to children’s centres and libraries with all of the equipment in there.

“It is very expensive but we want to put in this bid, we have a very compelling case and all the evidence of need, and consultation (has been) done with all the groups.

“We would like that vehicle to go around all those centres and libraries to provide stimulation and access to reading and learning for children with autism. Fingers crossed we get the grant in order to do that.”

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